‘Violence should not be a norm’

Pupils and teachers of Cedar High School in Rocklands demonstrate at the school.

Violence, bullying, and drugs are serious problems faced by Cedar High School, prompting them to voice their concerns in a memorandum which they handed over to the Western Cape Education Department.

More than 1400 pupils gathered at the school to witness the hand-over of the memorandum to Metro South District Circuit Manager Granville Stander, on Wednesday October 18.

Cedar High School School principal, David Charles, said the memorandum had been compiled by the school’s Representative Council of Learners (RCL) and that a survey had been conducted among pupils and teachers during the first week of this term.

“The campaign was to identify the problems and to come up with practical solutions. It is important to find ways to make our schools a much safer place, as they are places of learning. Violence is affecting our pupils and as a school we cannot remain silent anymore.

“The memorandum will include practical solutions that pupils submitted to solve the violence issue at schools,” he said.

Some of the main issues included pupils coming to school with illegal substances and weapons but not being expelled.

Matthew Gillfellow, chairperson of the Cedar High RCL said there were “acute levels of anxiety” at the school due to violence and that they were determined to address the persistent violence among students as well as violence perpetrated against teachers – and violence committed by teachers against pupils.

“The symptoms are characterised by a marked degree of loss of interest and attention which affects the lesson approach of the majority of pupils and the work ethic of teachers. The pupils’ anxiety levels are intense due to a sense of low-esteem and worthlessness brought on by the marked violence which has been endemic at the school over the past decade,” he said.

Matthew said that classrooms were overcrowded and added that there was a lack of discipline among pupils in some classes.

“The lack of self-control engenders violent and angry pupils and overcrowded classes and heavy workloads affect the morale and work ethic of pupils and teachers,’’ he said.

Other concerns raised by pupils included the assaults and robberies on corner of Spine Road and Katdoring Street in Eastridge. They asked for police visibility for pupils when they travel to school.

ANC member of parliament for the Mitchell’s Plain constituency, Derek Hanekom encouraged pupils to work hard and to remain positive. He added that violence should not exist in a place of learning and agreed that the issues should be addressed.

“I have heard that you have pupils fighting with each other, and that bullying is a serious concern. If you are a victim you must be brave and stand up. This memorandum is to ensure that the learning environment improves, but it all starts with you. Despite the challenges you need to work hard and not fall into the trap of being a gangster, that is not something you should aspire to, you can do better than that, you are worth so much more,’’ he said.

The memorandum listed 19 recommendations from the pupils, 12 from the teachers and nine from both pupils and teachers. The pupils recommended that there be an “immediate dismantling and discouragement of school gangs”; that strict security with authority to search all pupils be put in place; that pupils be called on to refrain from violence in all forms and that awareness be created, through seminars or workshops on the negative side of violence through drama and creative arts media

Sub-council 23 chairperson Elton Jansen encouraged pupils to rise above their situations and be the best pupils they can be.

“Violence should not be a norm, and so it is important for you to take a stand,” he said. “With regards to bullying, I encourage you to respect each other and your teachers and more importantly help each other grow. Violence is not the answer, and if you are battling, speak out and get help.”Cedar high teacher Courtney Edwards said often pupils and teachers suffered in silence: “I have had a lighter in my face on the school premises before and that is just one incident out of many at the school.

“Violence at school is getting out of hand and if we don’t address it now then the situation might get even worse in months and years to come,’’ he said.

Matthew said it was in the interest of those who governed schools to regard this memorandum in a serious light and consider the calls and recommendations in the pursuit of excellence and to assist in the goal to create safer schools.

Millicent Merton, spokesperson for the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) said their district office received the memorandum and would be looking at how they could assist the pupils and possibly implement some of the suggestions made by them.

“School safety is an ongoing concern and challenge for the WCED. One of the functions of our Safe Schools Programme is to work with communities, government and civil society to deal effectively with crime and violence affecting schools, using a ‘whole of society’ approach,” she said.

Mitchell’s Plain police spokesperson Captain Ian Williams said their Social Crime Prevention unit members were attending to about 10 cases of school-related violence which occurred between April and September. The cases includes assault grievous bodily harm and assault common; sexual assault, and damage to property.

Captain Williams said many schools in Mitchell’s Plain were vulnerable to break-ins during which much damage and disruption to learning were caused.

He said they currently had about 17 reported cases.

“The sector commanders are currently doing patrols in their sectors on a daily basis. Crime patterns are also constantly monitored and work adapted to these. The station has a team of Social Crime Prevention members who work closely with the schools and also liaise with Sector Commanders where necessary.

School Safety tips:

Parents must teach their children to be aware of their surroundings at all times.

All incidents must be reported to the school.

Encourage children to walk in groups (safety in numbers).

Parents (who at home during the day)can form part of the community safety structures(neighbourhood watches and sub forums, street and Block committees).

Participate and support initiatives such as the school bus project

School Governing Bodies can organise into WatsApp groups that monitor safety in and around the school in tandem with the school management

Schools and SGB to have safety committees that regularly interact with SAPS and other law Enforcement agencies on ongoing basis

Parents to ensure that alternative arrangements are always made in connection with children using school transport.

Learners who display their cell phones in public can unwittingly make themselves targets for thieves.